Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Piano In Heaven

Happy Summer, PDX!

This is that season that sneaks in under the cover of daylight and leaves us with less. Stealth season. That will make more sense come September 21. For now, enjoy.

I despise the term "pass away". If your dog gets hit by a car, it doesn't pass away. Away where? The dog dies. It flat dies! If your loved one or your kid or your spouse or your friend gets hit by a bullet or cancer or simply the accumulation of days, they die. And sometimes people simply die of a broken heart. My classmate and friend, Wes, who was KIA in Vietnam on 5 April 68 did not pass away. He died. And a few short years later his mother Helen, a strong mother of seven, died. I think primarily of a broken heart.

Back in March my friend Jack died. He didn't pass away. He didn't vanish forever from God's cosmos they way a piece of roadside litter seems to vanish from our world as we speed by at 70 MPH and leave it in the dust. There's a hole in the world where Jack was. But that doesn't mean there's a hole in the cosmos, a hole in the kingdom of God, only a part of which goes by the title of heaven.

What's heaven? In my life I've heard pretty insipid descriptions by preachers. And I've heard salivating descriptions from fervent believers whose mannerisms about many things give me the willies, send me running for cover rather than wanting to know more. As a kid I was frightened horribly by an old folk tale I once heard. Night after night I would pull the covers over my head, heart pounding, fearing that death would come out of the darkness and grab me in its cold, horrible, endless jaws. I shook myself to sleep many a night. Heaven on the other side of the horror of death, the heaven I had been given to understand, did not seem worth going through death in order to gain it.

Thirteen or more years ago I was taking one of my soul transfusions on a solo backpacking trip to South Sister in Central Oregon. I was thinking about my father's last years of life, riddled with Parkinson's disease and being engulfed by loss of mental functions that often put him somewhere else as chunks of his brain cells deteriorated. But one thing he was 'til the day he died: a farmer. It's what he was built to be and was very good at--although the stress of it in the form of weather and price fluctuations and weeds and aching bones gave him stomach ulcers and many anxious days and years of life, many sleepless nights.

Then it hit me, sitting there at my campsite. Why would God go to the trouble to make us all so unique, give us all vocations and interests and talents and gifts and burdens and family to live with--only to run us all through the blender of death and turn us into...what? A generic, plain label clone of sterility? Automatons who did nothing but stand around a throne and sing 24/7 eternally? Was God so ultra-needy and greedy that we had no eternal use to God except as an ever-growing chorus of praise machines? Was God the ultimate consumer of everything, even of people reborn to eternal life? That was heaven???

Or maybe not.
Maybe the God who went to such trouble for us and with us didn't take away all that made us who we are in the life he gave us. Maybe death was not a separation from our gifts and loves and talents. Maybe death was at last the fulfillment of these things. Maybe what gives God eternal and everlasting pleasure beyond measure is finally seeing his people for all that they can be, poured out for one another in amazing relationship of community and art and love and song. Maybe heaven is about ultimate enrichment of each other. Maybe heaven is about more than gold, silver, diamond and marble infrastructure.

"Maybe," I thought,"maybe Dad actually has a farm in heaven!" Maybe it was all he'd ever hoped and dreamed his earthly farm would be... and so much more. Maybe the cherries he remarked about one day looking out the kitchen window of his house in town were real. Maybe the cherry tree none of the rest of us were able to see was the one waiting for him on his farm. Maybe in his last days Dad could actually see heaven and we couldn't.

I wrote a poem titled "Imagining Heaven" right there on the spot. Knowing how the mountains of Oregon have saved my life, have been and are God's breath of life to me, I began to think how beautiful the mountains of heaven might be. Some days I can barely force myself to wait any longer to see the mountains and roma in them.

Imagining Heaven got written into the play I wrote in 1997 to honor my cousin Narvin, my friend Wes and my then surviving friend Jack--and so many others torn from life or burdened in life by the Vietnam War. In the play, a Vietnam vet and struggling Nebraska farmer, Randy, is slowly coming to terms with his life and his children after the tragic traffic accident that has taken the life of his wife Lisa, a lover of the piano. In one scene late in the story after a fun day of fishing at a nearby sandpit lake, Randy and his 10-year-old son David share a quiet moment of reflection on the sofa before David heads up to bed.

David asks, "Dad, has Mom got a piano in heaven?

A piano in heaven? Randy first reacts with incredulity because the concept is so far outside of the way heaven has ever been talked about in his church upbringing. And then the door of new understanding finally opens the way it did for me. Randy is opened to the possibility that heaven is the wild fulfillment of our gifts and uniqueness. It required the child's fresh take on things to open the door. And Randy replies, "Hmmm... You know, I bet she does have a piano. And she's writing new songs that she's waiting to play just for you."
David can't wait to hear the songs.

Heaven. Think about it. Think about it new. And here's the poem that started it all:

Imagining Heaven

I cannot imagine heaven
Unless there are mountains in it.
Cannot imagine majesty beyond
jagged rock and snow against the sky

What sound would ever be heard
from quickened, mighty winds
unless they blew against the rocks and trees
That reach into the clouds?

If ever I am blessed, or someday glorified
If ever I am lifted to eternal life
Oh, please; oh, please, let there be mountains--
such places for the soul to soar!
For I could not imagine heaven
If mountains were no more.

Copyright by Roger D. Fuchs, all rights reserved.

Imagine heaven today.


Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

Dear Dad,

Happy Father's Day! Twenty years ago your tired body was still with us. Your mind sometimes was, but mostly it was far away. In 1989 I was doing my best to run a struggling company, and that wasn't working very well. At all. It was more than 30 miles from home, at least a 45-minute drive one way. Sometimes I drove home at 6 PM. Sometimes at 10 PM. Sometimes at 2 or 3 AM, trying to keep things going.
I had a daughter who didn't see much of me. She was 10 and in need of a Dad. We finally got a little time together in the Three Sisters Wilderness in August 1989. A good time. A much needed time.

I didn't have much time for you. I didn't make the time. And in a few months, just after Christmas, it would be God's time for you. At last you went home to meet your Father face to face.
But you gave me and our family a stable, secure life when I was growing up. We didn't lack for home, food, shelter, work, education, clothing or parents who were always there, even if tired. I didn't thank you enough. I never could. Thanks for all you gave, mostly thanks for you and for loving Mom and being so faithful to all of us.

I know it has shaped the father that I am and have been for 30 years now. Thank you, Dad. God's blessings be upon you for eternity. Someday we shall embrace again.



Friday, June 19, 2009

All The Colors

Hi, PDX!

That photo on the Alms From The Poor post below... We took that last fall in the neighborhood on one of our walks after Jean's brain surgery--craniotomy to medical folks. It was a reminder of what's all around us and the intense beauty of that other season that rivals spring and in my mind surpasses it. What season for you has all the colors of life?

Different subject but similar concept: What's your model of church? No, I don't mean what model of church do you have, as in what denomination. And I don't mean the style of architcture, as in Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Art Deco, New England red brick with white columns, industrial warehouse, or latex-stucco-over-over-styrofoam-insulation-that-can-double-as-a-prom-venue-rock-concert-or-mortuary-when-the-church-folds. I don't mean your organizational structure of elders and deacons or council and officers.

Is it the pomp of the royal court going back to the fourth century when Constantine's Byzantine churches made worship look like the coronation of the imperial court--which it was? Is it the bare-bones of a prairie schoolhouse with hard wooden benches and a wood stove? Is it the preacher-centered podium of a party propaganda rally? The wood panels and high backed chairs of the British Parliament or courtroom? Is it performance-based with a stage instead of an altar? Is it "American Idol" minus (or not) only a few of the lights and 20-foot LCD screens?

What's the carbon footprint of your worship? How would your faith and worship life change if electrical power rates tripled and gas went to five or seven dollars a gallon?

What's the center of the words that are sung? Homocentric or theocentric?

If the building went up in smoke or to bits and pieces in a tornado, where would the discipleship be focused?

Would Christ still be able to do His work? Would our lives of faith have all the colors of spring?

Or would they maybe have all the colors of fall that can sometimes blow spring right out of the water?


Pastor Roger

Monday, June 15, 2009

Alms From the Poor

She couldn't believe it. When I passed the offering plate, the young woman in back piped up:

"What? You ask for money from homeless people?"

I told her we have always taken an offering at Operation Nightwatch worship, that it's a community effort, that guests give, volunteers give, that I give, that 100% goes to support food pantries in the downtown area, that not a cent goes to the ministry of Operation Nightwatch or the food we provide each week. That not a cent goes to me or ever will.

I told her we give what we have, even if that's only a brief prayer on behalf of someone else who is in need. That small things are great things to God, that God will do good things with whatever any of us can give with love.
When it came time for the Lord's Supper/Communion, she came forward. We gave to her freely, despite her occasional disruptive behavior during worship. I don't know if she noticed, but someday she will. May God watch over her soul.

And, yes, we ask people to give what they can, always have, always will. And we are blessed to do so. After all, a penny from a person who has no more is a greater fortune than $100 from a person who has many more hundreds of dollars. This doesn't go unnoticed by God. It doesn't go unblessed by God.

We don't have to give. We get to. God has blessed us to. Love was only ever meant to be given away. And we all have some to give. We have all received without limit.


Pastor Roger

Thursday, June 11, 2009

To Facebook or to Face Time?

Just took a detour with my friend Karen's blog: . Seems that back in Tyson's Corner outside of DC an ad company dreamed up an advertising poster for a one-month run in DC's Metro trains. 500 posters. Looks for all the world like the reflection of a woman's face in the black granite of The Wall in DC, red rose and everything. Except it has the names of stores instead of the dead. Plus big words proclaiming "Time To Defrost". Huh? Do they mean it's time to shop?

Anyway, Karen, Jan Scruggs and a few other decent souls found it offensive, as should every American. Sent word to a DC newspaper columnist. Got the ads pulled. Columnist wrote a followup story. I read the followup, but then I made the mistake of reading some of the readers' comments.

Most were supportive of the action. But then there were a few of those really trashy ones insulting the president, fellow Americans, war dead, etc. Name-calling. Labeling. Invective. Conversational non-starters.

I've run out of patience with it. One of my favorite thinkers and writers featured in The Oregonian is Leonard Pitts, Jr. who (still has a job) writes for the Miami Herald and is picked up by other major papers. I find him thoughtful, logical, articulate, civil and not afraid to dig for the core of truth in things. Some weeks back I read followup comments posted by readers. They made me ill. Ashamed. Afraid for our future as a society if this is how we talk about and think about intelligent fellow citizens.

I see it everywhere I read comments posted on the Internet. Are many of us so starved for attention that we run around like elephant-sized dogs scent-posting our most uncivil speech everywhere we can?

The anonymity and the reach of cyberspace seems to have wrung much of the sensibility right out of us.

So here's my new rule:

I will never type anything on the keyboard that I wouldn't say to a person's face with grace and be prepared to defend with fact and love.

Perhaps we need much less cyber-chat and a lot more one-on-one dialogue. Conversation requires both speaking and listening. Maybe less Facebook and more face-time?

Jesus reminded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Hard to love someone you don't know. Easy to name-call, label and rant; easy to do anti-love. Harder to do the genuine article.

Father, forgive us, for we know not what we've built...

Pastor Roger

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Conspiracy Theory

Actually, most of the urban legend "conspiracy theories" that float and cyber-virus their way around the world don't qualify as theories. They aren't posited as careful attempts to make progress in understanding the cause/effect relationship of phenomena. They have nothing to do with the scientific method. Most so-called conspiracy theories are rumors and propaganda, flat-out fiction.

To be sure, there are events where one should theorize the possibility of a conspiracy and then test to see whether the evidence supports a conspiracy. For example, did Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others conspire to manipulate and manufacture oxymoronic "intelligence" supporting WMD and a Saddam Hussein-Al Qaida link in order to justify and bring about the U.S. invasion of Iraq? Odds are better than even, I'd say.

But there are other conspiracy theories that don't stand up to the light of day. A former co-worker dragged around a whole bag full of those for years. Some wacko wrote about it in a piece on the Internet, and therefore it must be true. President Clinton, at the end of his term, would refuse to leave office, declare martial law, institute a dictatorship and hold the world hostage by threatening to detonate nuclear weapons planted all over the Arctic.... It was a deep, dark, sinister conspiracy. "Phil" (not his real name) believed this. He really did, told it to anyone who would listen. Reasonably intelligent man, father of six, war vet, successful businessman. Go figure.

And then there is ADVENT CONSPIRACY...

It's a wonderful thing conceived several years ago by Portland's Imago Dei Community and a couple of other churches as a response to the overspending and overconsumption of modern commerical Christmas. It has spread at the grass roots and has produced countless acts of relational giving and diverted dollars that have provided clean, safe drinking water to thousands of people in impoverished areas, countless acts of local outreach. It has resulted in new connection, new communities and new beginnings.

All without being a church "program" that is packaged, marketed and sold. For profit.

Now Zondervan wants to do exactly that. Sure, they will donate a percentage of the profits to good causes. They say. But they also won't do this deal at a loss. You can bet your crucifix bookmark on that.

So when something becomes a product instead of an inspiration, what happens to the spirit and the soul of the thing?

Maybe we need to conspire against the "new and improved" Advent Conspiracy and start a Lent Conspiracy, Easter Conspiracy, Pentecost Conspiracy, 24/7 Conspiracy.

Or maybe we should just subcontract all of our faith life to China. Put it onto a DVD. For profit.

Jesus repeated the oldest biblical instruction to love our neighbors. It's the heart of being in relationship with God. Do we really need a program to do that? Do we need a conspiracy to do that?

I have a theory...


Pastor Roger

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Stumbling Blocks

We have the English word "scandal". We imagine some outrageous behavior that has been disclosed, usually involving some egregious sexual escapade or blatant and willful transgression of ethics. That's where the word has ended up in modern usage. It's not where it began. Its Greek origin is the noun skandalon. The literal translation is "stumbling block".

Imagine someone in a third world country whose job it is to carry huge sacks of grain, bales of cotton or baskets of rocks on their backs. That's how it's done some places. When we lived in Turkey in the early 1970's, Jean and I saw them. These human trucks carried towers of fabric bolts or finished garments to and from the textile mills and garment factories surrounded by steep hills and very narrow streets of old Instanbul that no small pickup or three-wheeled moped truck could begin to navigate. These men were permanently stooped over from having done this backbreaking work all their lives. They literally wore wedge-shaped saddles or platforms on their backs so that, bent over at a 45-60 degree angle, they would have a level surface on which to balance their loads and climb the ancient cobbled streets for a pittance of pay. Low carbon fottprint. Huge human labor footprint.

We saw a milder variation of it once at our third floor apartment in the town of Yalova. I bought a used Westinghouse refrigerator (yeah, they once made appliances here in the U.S.) from a GI down the street who was either getting a better one or going back to the U.S. Some local young men with a horsedrawn wagon hauled it the couple of blocks from the other apartment to ours. I thought the three would carry it up the flights of stairs. No. One man stooped over while the other two hoisted the fridge onto his back. They just guided the corners of it around the turns and landings while the human forklift carried it up to floor 3.

You get the picture. Now add a mischievous 10-year-old boy to the picture who sneaks up and puts a brick in front of one of the feet of the human truck causing him to stumble. Crash! Injury. Pain. Stumbling block...

Sometimes our words are. Back on May 31 I used the picture of my Red Cross donor sticker as a tribute to the blood shed by veterans and my gift of a blood donation on May 23 as a cause for celebrating knowing Jean for 39 years. I thought it was cool. Not to everyone.

When I used the picture of the Red Cross sticker on my May 31 worship folder at Operation Nightwatch, a woman I had never seen there before thought it was outrageous. Her faith background is as a Jehovah's Witness, and her understanding of Scripture is that the mixing of blood is expressly prohibited. The seven gallons of my life that I have donated to help people through major surgeries and tragic accidents--some of them perhaps preemie infants (my blood is a 1% category acceptable for preemies because I am CMV negative)--was to her not a gift of life but a scandalous sin against God.

To her, Scripture is, it seems to me, nothing more than a law code of rules that permanently divide people into doers of good and doers of evil. I have known and heard and lived a grace-based relationship with God. I once knew something as rigid as what she knows--and it nearly killed me. She knows a Bible, apparently, that has no room for grace because it's all based on what we do or don't.

Was Christ a prophet? Only a prophet? Did Christ bring anything new to the table, anything at all new to our relationship with God? Are the words through which we understand God a life-giving transfusion or a stumbling block? If only the latter, I think it's scandalous.


Pastor Roger

On Normandy's coast

They came ashore in endless waves, the Americans, Brits, Canadians and free French soldiers. Many died on the beach under heavy fire without cover. Many were so weighed down by their gear that they didn't even make it ashore. Some couldn't swim.
Militarily, it wasn't the best strategy. It simply threw exposed men against an enemy firmly entrenched in concrete bunkers and pillboxes. Its only hope for success was in sacrificing sheer numbers of lives on the gamble that enough would get through to finally establish a few beachheads that would enable more to come ashore. Men were expended because they were the cheapest and most plentiful resource available to the commanders.
So they went. And the telegrams started arriving all over America. No one involved ever saw their lives and history without the dividing line of D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Rest well, brothers and the few remaining survivors. Thank you more than words can say.


Pastor Roger

Friday, June 5, 2009

I Can Hear Them...

I can hear them already. I could hear them before President Obama had finished his speech in Cairo. Heck, I could hear them before he even started:
"He's sold out America..."
"Surrendered on the way to the victory party..."
"Traitor in the White House..."
"Socialist, Marxist, nihilist..."
"Closet Muslim finally comes out. Now we know for sure..."
"Gave terrorists a free pass..."

Yada, yada, yada...

Oh, and he's going to take away all your guns, too. Yeah, right. As if even God could get that done. So far, America which is already awash in guns has been able to keep supply ahead of demand. And then some. But it seems we are running short of ammunition. Not because too little is being produced. It's because people are stocking up by the case, by the pallet load: Preparing for war, I guess.

Fear is a four-letter word. And it seems to be running us around like headless chickens. Ever seen one of those? I've seen a few. They do run. They fly. They flop around wildly. For a time... Not a pleasant sight. So was the war in Iraq a response to terrorism and its causes, or was it a reaction to fear? Have Israeli-Palestinian relations improved as a result? Are we on better terms with Iran as a result? Is N. Korea less nuclear? Iran? Pakistan more stable?

Can we go on as we have and get anywhere good?

Don't we have to start somewhere to make a new beginning? Could we have made a better start? What have we already been doing to back that up?

The Muslim world. Seems a mystery to most Americans. Where to begin? Hmmmm...?

Here's a suggestion for starters. Try pronouncing the word a little more accurately. "Muslim" does not rhyme with the cotton fabric known as "muslin". There is no "z" in the word. There is an "s". And the "u" is not pronounced like the "u" in "up". It's closer to the "u" in "lucrative". We won't work on the "i" today.

So maybe it will all blow up in the president's face. But I give him an A+ for taking the initiative and for at least being able to pronounce the words like an intelligent person.

Are we praying for him in our churches? Are we actually praying for peace, or are our prayers more self-focused on our own faith communities as islands? Does the prayer of St. Francis ("Lord, make me an instrument of your peace...") translate as "Lord, keep us in a secure bubble protected by weapons and ammunition"?

God's shalom does not come from the surroundings of human-built fortifications,

Pastor Roger